Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Has Ascended Into Heaven?

Biblegems #147

Question: Jesus says that no one has entered into heaven, yet in the Old Testament both Enoch and Elijah are said to have gone into heaven. Has anyone besides Jesus ascended into heaven, or not?

Here are the three references for the above question:
John 3:13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

Gen. 5:24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

2Kings 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

“Heaven” is a very broad term. Depending on the context, it can mean, “sky” (Gen. 7:11); “universe” (Ps. 33:6); the “spiritual realm” where we interact with God, angels and engage in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12); and our eternal residence as followers of Jesus Christ in God’s presence (Jn. 14:2).

In addition, the apostle Paul talks of being caught up into the “third heaven”:
         2Cor. 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.  

The third heaven was a familiar concept in Jewish literature in NT times that referred to Paradise (2Cor. 12:4), also known as “Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). This was the realm of the righteous dead prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It would be here, the third heaven or Paradise that Jesus referred to when he said to the dying thief on the cross:
         Luke 23:43  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

For the sake of an earthly comparison, we could call the third heaven the anteroom or waiting room of heaven proper. All those who died as faithful believers in the one true God prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ would enter into Paradise. They entered heaven proper upon Jesus’ ascension (Rev. 4:4) awaiting the day when they would receive their resurrection bodies (1Thess. 4:14-17).

Paradise is the “heaven” where Enoch and Elijah, along with all the Old Testament saints such as Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets waited until the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God. So they are in heaven awaiting the Second Coming of Christ  for the resurrection of the body. And for those of us who are “in Christ” now, death takes us immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven where we too will await the resurrection of the body at His glorious appearing:         
2Cor. 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

So Jesus, our sole authority on heaven, is absolutely correct when He said that no one had gone into heaven (prior to His resurrection) other than Himself. His resurrection and ascension “parted the curtain,” so to speak, giving access to the very presence of God. Until then, God’s faithful people from the Old Testament era awaited their entrance into heaven in Paradise.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bible And Interracial Marriage

Biblegems #146
Question: What does the Bible teach about interracial marriage?

Before going any further in answering this question I would strongly encourage the reader to see my earlier Bible Gems post, #75, “Origin Of The Races,” February 2012.

“Interracial” marriage is something of a misnomer, since we all belong to one race—the human race:
Acts 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

So the real question has to do with inter-ethnic and inter-cultural marriage. Sometimes people have used God’s commands to the Israelites against intermarrying with other nations as a prohibition against interracial marriage in general. They will cite verses such as Numbers 25:1-3 as examples of idolatry when the Israelites have ignored this prohibition.

The truth is, however, that God’s commands against the people of Israel intermarrying with those of other nations are not about ethnicity or race, they are a prescription against believers in the one true God marrying nonbelievers. The same point is made in the New Testament:
         2Cor. 6:14-15 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

Not only does God’s Word not condemn, instruct against or even discourage inter-ethnic marriage, but the day is coming when all the wonderful variety of the human race will be joined together in a beautiful display of skin tones, languages and cultures praising God and the Lamb around the throne of heaven:
         Rev. 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.

When people come to faith in Jesus Christ they also become part of a new race, a race where color barriers and language / culture barriers fall away:
         2Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
         1Pet. 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

This is more than metaphor; we are new creatures in Christ, a new kind of human—regenerated and alive in Him. “When Christ is our all, and when Christ is in all, ethnic differences change from being barriers to become blessings. Even ‘barbarians’ and the most distant of them, ‘Scythians,’ are in the new ‘race’—the church. The head of this race is no longer Adam, but the ‘last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45), Jesus Christ. God aims that in this new ‘race’ of humans all ethnic groups in the world will be included (Matthew 24:14). Inter-ethnic marriage in this new humanity is one manifestation and one means of Christ being all in all.”[i]

[i] —By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is Revenge Acceptable To God

Biblegems #145
Question: Psalm 58:10-11 suggests that revenge is acceptable to God, yet Proverbs 24:17-18 suggests the opposite. Is revenge acceptable to God or not?

Here are the two verses in question:
Ps. 58:10-11 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then men will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

Prov. 24:17-18 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.

 “Revenge” conjures up images of someone filled with rage and hatred getting even with whoever has done that person wrong. But according to the dictionary, the word “revenge” means to punish someone in return for wrongdoing, injury or insult. Technically, it means to deliver justice. Given that definition, “revenge” is not really what is at the heart of Proverbs 24: 17-18. That passage has to do with a mean-spirited attitude, so it cannot be used to argue for or against God’s attitude toward revenge.

Ps. 58:10-11, however, accurately describes vengeance from the biblical viewpoint of God punishing those who do evil. A close look at the passage reveals four key players: the “righteous,” who have been wronged, the “wicked,” who committed the wrongdoing, the “men,” who are witnesses of the event, and God, who acts as judge. In this scenario it is God who judges the actions of the wicked and, as a result, those who witness it all come to the conclusion that God is just and fair for punishing those who abused the righteous.

As for the righteous in this verse, they are “glad” because justice has been served. They have been avenged by God who has seen the injustice done to them. As grotesque as it sounds to our ears that the righteous “bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked,” that is simply a very real description of a battlefield where the victory has gone to those who were wronged. The righteous are not glad because they are ankle deep in blood; they are glad because God saw to it that the good guys won! The blood is evidence of His victory over evil. God has exercised justice.

So even Psalm 58:10-11 does not suggest that revenge is acceptable to God in the common use of that word. What it does teach is that God is just, and He is the avenger of the righteous when they are wronged. This verse should be a source of great comfort for those who have been rescued from the life of wickedness and who have come to faith in Jesus Christ:
         1Pet. 4:3-5 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Evil In The Heavenly Realms?

Biblegems #143
Question: How can evil exist in the heavenly realms?

This question is a follow-up of Biblegems # 78: “What Are The Heavenly Realms?” 

The phrase “heavenly realms” is a term found only in Ephesians, and the word “realms” is actually not found in the Greek New Testament. The Greek word is e˙pourani÷oiß (Lit. “heavenlies”).  “The heavenlies” refers to the spiritual dimension of existence, not exclusively to heaven as a place. It might actually be better translated as “spiritual places” rather than heavenly realms.

This spiritual dimension refers to that unseen plane of reality where angels and demons are at war, a struggle in which followers of Christ are actively engaged in through our life in the Spirit, through prayer, and through the use of spiritual gifts:
         Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Christians have been given the ability through the Holy Spirit to function in this spiritual dimension because of our spiritual union with Christ:
         Eph. 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Spiritual experience, by definition, takes place in the spiritual dimension—“the heavenly realms.” Temptation is a spiritual experience, even though it has very tangible results in the “flesh and blood” plane of existence. Worship is also a spiritual experience that takes place in the spiritual dimension—“the heavenly realms”—even though it, too, has very obvious expression in the “flesh and blood world.”

It would be incorrect to think of the heavenly realms as being like a separate room from the earthly, material realm. The two realms are interwoven and they interact with one another. That’s why the apostle Paul could rightly say of the human interaction with God, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Because that is true, Satan could confront God face to face and have conversation with Him without contaminating heaven in any way. Heaven is God’s Kingdom, where God reigns supreme. God does not have to hide from evil as if evil could somehow tarnish His holiness. Rather, God rebukes evil:
         Zech. 3:1-2 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Evil exists in the heavenly (i.e., spiritual) realms because evil is at its essence a spiritual reality. But the day is soon coming when all evil will be purged from God’s creation, both on the earthly and on the spiritual plane:
         Rev. 21:27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.